THE HEAD of Google in the UK and Ireland has urged Yorkshire’s small and medium-sized businesses to make sure they have mobile-friendly websites if they want to be prioritised in the search giant’s new rankings.
The Silicon Valley firm updates its algorithms today to keep pace with “profound” changes in consumer behaviour and has warned that the move will have “a significant impact” on results.
Eileen Naughton told The Yorkshire Post: “We are following the consumer. They are living their lives digitally via mobile devices.
“Google and all the other provisioners of web services, including website owners, are running as fast as they can to keep up with the consumer.”
Google dominates the search market, handling nearly nine out of 10 of all queries in the UK, according to industry data, while an estimated 75 per cent of adults in this country own smartphones.
Ms Naughton said: “When you do a search query now on mobile a consumer expects a good mobile web experience.
“It’s not enough to have a good desktop experience. It’s really important you have a mobile-ready, mobile-friendly site.”
Last month Google launched Digital Garage in Leeds, the first of five workshops in a multi-million pound UK initiative.
Ms Naughton said: “We selected Leeds as our first city in the UK to try this. In some ways, it is an experiment, but in other ways it is a really firm commitment Google has made to having a presence across cities in the UK where there is a good concentration of SMEs and a strong economic environment and perhaps an underdeveloped capability in digital enablement of their businesses.”
The workshop, which was opened by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls last month, offers a range of free educational services to SMEs.
Ms Naughton said: “We fundamentally believe that businesses that are digitally enabled grow faster than those that aren’t and so it is a great way to stimulate economic develoment, jobs creation and vitality in your sector.”
Google said it has seen strong demand for the Digital Garage, with 100 SMEs visiting in the first four days. It is due to last for at least six months, the company added.
Ms Naughton denied that the initiative is a public relations stunt to mitigate against political risks from its controversial tax status in the UK. “I would say that’s a cynical view,” she said.
MPs have accused the company of “devious, calculated and unethical” behaviour over its tax arrangements.
Ms Naughton said Google has made a commitment worth “tens of millions of euros” to develop digital literacy and help one million businesses across Europe “get online, have a digital presence and find their consumers where their consumers are increasingly looking for them”.
She said Google has no immediate plans for a permanent presence in Yorkshire - it has an office in Manchester and calls on Capita staff in Leeds - “but rest assured we are very focused on a very strong and thriving digital economy outside of London”.
She added: “We think it is good for Google, good for the UK and in the end good for Google.”
Further afield, the company is facing a major legal battle in Europe.
The European Union’s competition authorities last week accused Google of anti-competitive practices against rival shopping sites and said it is continuing to investigate other areas.
Ms Naughton said: “We are now welcoming the opportunity to present the facts.
“The world has changed an enormous amount since the commission began its investigation five years ago and I think every indication would point to the fact there is healthy and good competition out there.”
She cited as examples the strong presence of Amazon, Twitter and Facebook.
The domination of the internet and other new technology sectors by American companies has prompted a mixture of admiration and anxiety in Europe.
US authorities that looked at Google’s business have taken no action.
Largest in the world
When high-flying New York advertising executive Eileen Naughton joined Google nine years ago, the company was basically a search engine.
Today, the tech giant operates the world’s largest video platform and second largest search engine YouTube, the world’s largest mobile operating system Android, the world’s largest web browser Chrome and an end-to-end advertising platform for publishers and advertisers,
Ms Naughton said: “If you had told me when I had joined Google we would be in this vastly changing pool of opportunity where mobile is at the centre of what consumers are doing on their digital lives and where in a nanosecond, especially here in the UK, you can click and transact and in the same day have your groceries delivered or your dress from Net-a-porter delivered by a van here in London, I would have said nine years ago, ‘Not possible, we won’t move that fast’.”
Looking ahead to the future, she told The Yorkshire Post: “Our business model will change but the world will be increasingly mobile, it will be smarter, it will interpret more about your lives and I think we will see the mobile device become a life assistant.”